lizabelle: (Old coat new book)
Most of my reviews are confined to GoodReads these days, but I haven't talked about Justin Cronin's The Passage here, and apparently I need to.

I've just finished reading it for the third time, which should tell you something (possibly that I have too much time on my hands). It stands up to re(re)reading pretty well, despite a couple of parts where I wished Cronin's editors had been stricter with him. For such a lumbering giant of a story, Cronin's writing is surprisingly lyrical, his tone wistful as he describes a world full of lost people - which later becomes, literally, a world of lost souls.

Note: there are minor spoilers below, but only for the first part of the book, and nothing that you wouldn't find in a regular newspaper review.

The premise - a government experiment goes horribly wrong, releasing a plague of vampire-like creatures ("virals") that destroy civilisation in a few short years - is simultaneously preposterous and in keeping with the slightly apocalyptic feel of our own world, with its melting ice, polluted cities and religious conflict. Cut for length )

Even at the third time of reading, I was caught up in the action and emotions of the story. I didn't want it to end.

So it's a good thing that the sequel, The Twelve, is due out very shortly.
lizabelle: (Book and sea)
My second book for the Australian Women Writers challenge was Margo Lanagan's Sea Hearts, published internationally as The Brides of Rollrock Island. I'm afraid this isn't going to be so much a review as an "I adored this book and please everyone read it" post, but I will link to a couple of other reviews to compensate.

I knew I was in for a treat from the opening pages of this book, when I found myself highlighting passages because I loved the evocative writing so much. Like this: "The sea was grey with white dabs of temper all over it; the sky hung full of ragged strips of cloud." I do enjoy a book that really makes me relish the language as I read.

But it takes more than inventive writing to make me fall in love. Lanagan quickly sets an elegiac mood with the opening chapter, which takes us into an island world in which a group of boys roams the shore looking for "sea hearts" to appease their mothers, watched bitterly by the old witch, Misskaella.

We soon learn that Misskaella, an abused, disregarded girl with a strange affinity for the local seal population, has found a terrible way of gaining agency in the community.

But the story isn't just about one deprived woman's need for agency; it is also about what happens when the men in a community reject real, human relationships in favour of other, more passive ones in which their partners have no agency. It's about the implications for that community, for the rejected women and the men themselves, for the children born of the various unions, and for "the mams" brought from the sea and prevented from returning.

It's a beautiful, thought-provoking, heartbreaking book, and I would love as many people as possible to read it. I just wish I could articulate why more clearly.

A couple more reviews that do the book better justice than I can: from Sean the Bookonaut and Krissy Kneen.

Edition I read: Kindle ebook. Margo Lanagan blogs at Among Amid While.
lizabelle: (Old coat new book)
I picked up this book on a whim after seeing it recommended by James Bradley on twitter. Well, I say "on a whim", but it was a bit more than, really, since James is also the person upon whose recommendation I read Justin Cronin's The Passage, aka my latest obsession.

In The Magicians, we meet Quentin, a geeky, unhappy teenager who is bounced out of his normal existence (finishing high school, going to Princeton) when he discovers that magic exists - and he can do it. Enrolled at Brakebills, the only college for magicians in North America, he falls in with the cool set - languid Eliot, drama-queen Janet, good-natured-yet-tortured Josh and clever Alice. At this point, I wondered if I was going to read The Secret History with added wizards, but Grossman has more up his sleeve than that.

Quentin has never quite let go of his favourite childhood books - a trait that many fannish people will recognise - in which a family of children are sent to live with an eccentric aunt and discover another, magical world. In this world, called Fillory, the children have various adventures and excitements, until (usually at the end of the school holidays) they are ejected by the godlike figures of Umber and Ember. If you're getting Narnia vibes now, you'd be right.

So magic, for Quentin, is almost like discovering that Fillory exists - like fulfilling his childhood dream of escape into this magical world where he can be a hero, and where he doesn't have to deal with the real world. Except that the real world refuses to go away, however hard he tries to forget his former life and however hard he works at magic. And when his time at Brakebills is up, he has to face the real world for, er, real.

The Magicians is what happens when you take the set-up of Harry Potter and stuff it, kicking and screaming, into our world. Don't get me wrong - I love the Harry Potter books, and part of their allure is the magical world that exists alongside our own. But Harry Potter approaches difficult moral questions with a battering ram rather than, say, a fountain pen. Harry has had a difficult - horrible - life, but he never struggles with his own self-worth; never really has to deal with anything beyond his willingness to risk his life for the forces of good. Which of course is a huge issue in itself, and part of what makes the Harry Potter books such a compelling and (for me) emotionally satisfying read.

Grossman's approach is different. For me, The Magicians is about happiness and where we can find it. The book is chock full of life lessons in a manner that sometimes threatens to become heavy-handed but never quite does so because the story is so damn enjoyable. It's wrapped up in tight but evocative writing and, if I didn't like everything about the way events played out, I can forgive that for the sheer pleasure that reading it gave me. Highly recommended for anyone who can take even a smidgeon of fantasy with their reading.
lizabelle: (Book and sea)
Sydney's coolest bookshop has opened another outlet in the Inner West, and this weekend the city's literati turned out to celebrate. Booker winner Thomas Keneally was among the authors appearing at Gleebooks in Dulwich Hill on Saturday. He was joined by Miles Franklin-shortlisted (and local) Charlotte Wood, Commonwealth Writers' Prize-shortlisted Michelle de Kretser and young adult author Georgia Blain, before the day was wrapped up with a serving of poetry.

Gleebooks

Party time on Marrickville Road

More under the cut: Garth Nix, Irfan Yusuf and PM Newton... )

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